Numbers 23

 

 

BALAAM’S PROPHECIES (v. 1-30)

 

 

1  And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars,” - According to

the common opinion of the heathen, it was necessary to propitiate with sacrifices the

God with whom they had to do, and if possible to secure His favorable consideration

on their side. The number seven was especially connected with the revelation of the

true God, the Creator of the world, and was probably observed here for this reason.

The sacrifices were offered no doubt to Jehovah - “and prepare me here seven

oxen and seven rams.  2  And Balak did as Balaam had spoken; and Balak

and Balaam offered on every altar a bullock and a ram.”

 

3  And Balaam said unto Balak, Stand by thy burnt offering, and I

will go: peradventure the LORD will come to meet me:” - It might be

concluded from ch. 24:1 that Balaam went only to look for “auguries,” i.e.,

 for such natural signs in the flight of birds and the like as the heathen were wont to

observe as manifestations of the favor or disfavor of God, the success or failure

of enterprises. It seems clear that it was his practice to do so, either as having some

faith himself in such uncertainties, or as stooping to usual heathen arts which he

inwardly despised. But from the fact that God met him (we know not how), and that

such supernatural communication was not unexpected, we may conclude

that Balaam’s words meant more for himself than the mere observance of

auguries, whatever they may have meant for Balak.    and whatsoever he

sheweth me I will tell thee. And he went to an high place.” Rather, “to a

 bald place” (שֶׁפִי — compare the meaning of “Calvary”), from which the

immediate prospect was uninterrupted.

 

4  And God met Balaam: and he said unto Him, I have prepared seven

altars,” -  Balaam, acting for the king of Moab, his heathen patron, in this difficult

business, points out to God that he had given Him the full quota of sacrifices to begin

with. It was implied in this reminder that God would naturally feel disposed to do

something for Balaam in return - “and I have offered upon every altar a bullock

and a ram.  5  And the LORD put a word in Balaam’s mouth, and said, Return

unto Balak, and thus thou shalt speak.  6  And he returned unto him, and, lo,

he stood by his burnt sacrifice, he, and all the princes of Moab.” 

 

7  And he took up his parable,” -  מָשָׁל (ch. 21:27). Balaam’s utterances were

in the highest degree poetical, according to the antithetic form of the poetry of that

day, which delighted in sustained parallelisms, in lofty figures, and in abrupt turns.

The mashalof Balaam resembled the “burden” of the later prophets in this,

that it was not a discourse uttered to men, but a thing revealed in him of which he

had to deliver himself as best he might in such words as came to him. His inward

eye was fixed on this revelation, and he gave utterance to it without consideration

of those who heard -  “and said, Balak the king of Moab hath brought me

from Aram,” -  Aram, i.e., Aram-Naharaim, or Mesopotamia (Genesis 29:1;

Deuteronomy 23:4) -  out of the mountains of the east, saying, Come, curse

me Jacob,” -  The use of this name as the poetical equivalent of Israel shows that

Balaam was familiar with the story of the patriarch, and understood his relation to

the people before him - “and come, defy” –  or “threaten,’ i.e., with the wrath of

Heaven – Israel.” 

  

8  How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy,

whom the LORD hath not defied?  9  For from the top of the rocks I see him,

and from the hills I behold him: lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not

be reckoned among the nations.”  Rather, “It is a people that dwelleth apart,

and is not numbered.” It was not the outward isolation on which his eye was

fixed, for that indeed was only temporary and accidental, but the religious and

moral separateness of Israel as the chosen people of God, which was the very

secret of their national greatness.  (Compare the United States of America

during Christian times – CY – 2011)

 

10  Who can count the dust of Jacob, and the number of the fourth part

of Israel?” -  אֶת־רבַע is so rendered by the Targums, as alluding to the four

great camps into which the host was divided. The Septuagint has δήμους

daemouspeople; public -  apparently from an incorrect reading. The Samaritan

and the older versions, followed by the Vulgate, render it “progeny,”  but this

meaning is conjectural, and there seems no sufficient reason to depart from the

common translation -  “Let me die the death of the righteous,” -  The word

righteous is in the plural (יְשָׁרִים, δικαίων dikaion - righteous): it

may refer either to the Israelites as a holy nation, living and dying in the

favor of God; or to the patriarchs, such as Abraham, the promises made

to whom, in faith of which they died, were already so gloriously fulfilled. If

the former reference was intended, Balaam must have had a much fuller

and happier knowledge of “life and immortality” than the Israelites

themselves, to whom death was dreadful, all the more that it ended a life

protected and blessed by God (Psalm 88:10-12; Isaiah 38:18-19). It is

hardly credible that so singular an anticipation of purely Christian feeling should

really be found in the mouth of a prophet of that day, for it is clear that the words,

however much inspired, did express the actual emotion of Balaam at the moment.

It is therefore more consistent with the facts and probabilities of the case to

suppose that Balaam referred to righteous Abraham (Isaiah 41:2) and his

immediate descendants, and wished that when he came to die he might have as

sure a hope as they had enjoyed that God would bless and multiply their seed,

and make their name to be glorious in the earth - “and let my last end

be like his!” - אַחַרִית (last end) is the same word translated “latter days”

and “latter end” in ch. 24:14, 20. It means the last state of a people or of a

man as represented in his offspring; the sense is not incorrectly expressed by the

Septuagint, γένοιτο τὸ σπέρμα μου ὡς τὸ σπέρμα τούτων genoito to

Sperma mou hos to sperma toutonlet my last end be like his.

 

11  And Balak said unto Balaam, What hast thou done unto me? I took

thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them

altogether.  12  And he answered and said, Must I not take heed to speak

that which the LORD hath put in my mouth?”

 

13  And Balak said unto him, Come, I pray thee, with me unto another

place,” -  Balak attributed the miscarriage of his enterprise thus far to something

inauspicious in the locality - “from whence thou mayest see them: thou

shalt see but the utmost part of them,” -  Thou shalt see but the utmost

part of them. אֶפֶס קָצֶהוּ תִרְאֶה. Both the meaning of the nouns and the

tense of the verb are disputed. By some ephes katsehu(the end of the last

of them) is held equivalent to “the whole of them,” which seems to contradict

the next clause even if defensible in itself. The ordinary rendering is favored by

the Septuagint (ἀλλ η} μέρος τι αὐτοῦ ὄψει – all ae meros ti autou opsei

see but the utmost part of them - ) and by the Targums. On the other hand,

some would read the verb in the present tense, and understand Balak’s

words to refer to the place they were leaving. This is in accordance with

the statement in ch.22:41, and it would certainly seem as if Balak and Balaam

moved each time nearer to that encampment which was for different reasons

the center of attraction to them both - “and shalt not see them all: and

curse me them from thence.”

 

14  And he brought him into the field of Zophim,” - i.e., of the watchers.

Probably a well known outlook - “to the top of Pisgah,” - They followed

apparently on the track of their enemies (see on ch. 21:20) – “and built seven

altars, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.”

 

15 “And he said unto Balak, Stand here by thy burnt offering, while I

meet the LORD yonder.”  Rather, “and I will go and meet thus.”

וְאָנֹכִי אִקָּרֶה כֹּה. Balaam does not say whom or what he is going to meet,

but from the use of the same term in ch. 24:1,  it is evident that he employed

the language of soothsayers looking for auguries. He may have spoken vaguely

on purpose, because he was in truth acting a part with Balak.

 

16  And the LORD met Balaam, and put a word in his mouth, and

said, Go again unto Balak, and say thus.  17 And when he came to him,

behold, he stood by his burnt offering, and the princes of Moab with him.

And Balak said unto him, What hath the LORD spoken?  18 And he took

up his parable, and said, Rise up, Balak, and hear; hearken unto me,

thou son of Zippor:  19 God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the

son of man, that he should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it?

or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?”

 

20 “Behold, I have received commandment to bless:” -  The word

commandmentis not wanted here. Balaam had received, not instructions,

but an inward revelation of the Divine will which he could not contravene -

 and He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it.”

 

21 “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob,” – The subject of this

and the parallel clause is left indefinite. If it is God, according to the A.V.,

then it means that God in His mercy shut His eyes to the evil which did exist

in individuals, and for His own sake would not impute it to the chosen

nation. If it be impersonal, according to the Septuagint and the Targums,

one does not behold iniquity,” then it means that the iniquity was not

flagrant, was not left to gather head and volume until it brought down

destruction - “neither hath He seen perverseness in Israel:” - Perverseness.

Rather, “suffering” (עָמָל. Septuagint, πόνος -  ponos - pain), the natural

 consequence of sin. Compare the use of the two words in Psalm 10:7; 90:10 –

the LORD his God is with him, and the shout of a king is among them.”

The “shout” (תִּרוּעָה) is the jubilation of the nation with which it acclaims

its victor king (I Samuel 4:5-6). In Leviticus 23:24; Psalm 47:5 it is used of the

sounding of the sacred trumpets.

 

22 “God” -  אֵל, and also at the end of the next verse, and four times in the

next chapter (vs. 4, 8, 16, 23). The use seems to be poetic, and no particular

signification can be attached to it - “brought them” - or, perhaps, “is leading them.”

So the Septuagint: Θεὸςἐξαγαγὼν αὐτόνTheos ho ezagagon autonGod

brings them -“out of Egypt; he hath as it were the strength of an unicorn.”

Unicorn. Hebrew, רְאֵם. It is uniformly rendered μονοκέρως monokeros

wild ox -  by the Septuagint, under the mistaken notion that the rhinoceros was

intended. It is evident, however, from Deuteronomy 33:17 and other passages that

the reem had two horns, and that its horns were its most prominent feature.

It would also appear from Job 39:9-12 and Isaiah 34:7 that, while

itself untameable, it was allied to species employed in husbandry. The reem

may therefore have been the aurochs or urus, now extinct, but which

formerly had so large a range in the forests of the old world. There is some

doubt, however, whether the urus existed in those days in Syria, and it may

have been a wild buffalo, or some kindred animal of the bovine genus,

whose size, fierceness, and length of horn made it a wonder and a fear.

 

23  Surely there is no enchantment” - Enchantment, נָחַשׁ. Rather, “augury.”

Septuagint - οἰωνισμός oionismosenchantment.   See on Leviticus 19:26,

where the practice is forbidden to Israel - “against Jacob,” - or, “in Jacob,” as

the marginal reading, and this is favored by the Septuagint and the Targums, and

is equally true and striking. It was the proud peculiarity of Israel that he trusted

 not  to any magic arts or superstitious rites, uncertain in themselves, and

 always leading to imposture, BUT TO THE DIRECTION AND FAVOR

OF THE ALMIGHTY! - neither is there any Divination” - קֶסֶם. Septuagint,

μαντεία manteiadivination; soothsaying -  The art of the soothsayer -

 against Israel: according to this time it shall be said of Jacob and of Israel,” - 

 

Rather, “in season,” i.e., in God’s good time,” it shall be said to Jacob and to

Israel - “What hath God wrought! Or, “what God doeth.” The meaning

seems to be that augury and divination were useless and vain in the case of

Israel, because God Himself declared and would declare His mighty acts in

behalf of His people, and that by no uncertain prophecy, but by open declaration. 

(I find it most interesting that Samuel F. B. Morse, the inventor of telegraph wires

and Morse Code,  on May 24, 1844, sent the message “WHAT HATH GOD

WROUGHT!  from the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol  in Washington

to the Old Mt. Clare Depot in Baltimore, Maryland this message (quoting Numbers

23:23) was chosen by Annie Ellsworth of Lafayette, Indiana, the daughter of Patent

Commissioner Henry Leavitt Ellsworth.  The message was all capital letters because

the original Morse code alphabet had no question mark or lower case.  Much

of this information comes from Wikipedia.  HOW IS THIS FOR A CASE

STUDY FOR THE INSTRUCTION OF THE MODERN SUPREME

COURT WHO HAS BEEN ANTI-RELIGIOUS FOR THE LAST

50 YEARS – THE ONLY THING THAT I CAN SAY IS THE COURT,

AND ITS MAJORITY MEMBERS IN THESE UNFORTUNATE

CASES WILL FACE JUDGMENT FROM THE SAME GOD

WHICH  BALAK AND BALAAM TRIED TO “HOODWINK!” –

CY – 2011)

 

24  Behold, the people shall rise up as a great lion,” לָבִיא, generally

translated “old lion,” as in Genesis 49:9. By some it is rendered lioness (Job 4:11;

Nahum 2:12) - “and lift up himself as a young lion:” -  אַרִי, the ordinary term

for a lion without further distinction. It is altogether fantastic to suppose that Balaam

had just seen a lion coming up from the ghor of Jordan, and that this “omen”

inspired his “mashal.” The rising of a lion from its covert was one of the most

common of the more striking phenomena of nature in those regions, and the imagery

it afforded was in constant use; but in truth it is evident that these similes are borrowed

from Jacob’s dying prophecy concerning Judah (Genesis 49:9), in which the word

prey (Hebrew, טֶרֶפ, a torn thing) is also found. Balaam was acquainted with that

prophecy, as he was with the promises made to Abraham (Compare v.10 with

Genesis 13:16; 28:14) - “he shall not lie down until he eat of the prey, and

drink the blood of the slain.”

 

25 “And Balak said unto Balaam, Neither curse them at all, nor bless

them at all.  26 But Balaam answered and said unto Balak, Told not I thee,

saying, All that the LORD speaketh, that I must do?”

 

27 “And Balak said unto Balaam, Come, I pray thee, I will bring thee

unto another place;” -  At first (v.25) Balak had in his vexation desired to

stop the mouth of Balaam, but afterwards he thought it wiser to make yet

another attempt to change the mind of God; as a heathen, he still thought that

this might be done by dint of importunity and renewed sacrifices -  “peradventure

it will please God that thou mayest curse me them from thence.”

 

28 “And Balak brought Balaam unto the top of Peor,” -  On the meaning of

Peor see on ch.25:3. This Peor was a summit of the Abarim ranges northwards from

Pisgah, and nearer to the Israelites. The adjacent village, Beth-Peor, was

near the place of Moses’ burial (Deuteronomy 34:6). From the phrase used in

Deuteronomy 3:29; 4:46, with which the testimony of Eusebius agrees, it must

have lain almost opposite Jericho on the heights behind the Arboth Moab.

From Peor, therefore, the whole encampment, in all its length and breadth,

would lie beneath their gaze - “that looketh toward Jeshimon.”  See on

ch. 21:20.

 

29 “And Balaam said unto Balak, Build me here seven altars, and

prepare me here seven bullocks and seven rams.  30 And Balak did as

Balaam had said, and offered a bullock and a ram on every altar.”

 

 

 

 

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